In 1998, when I first attempted to begin wintering nucleus colonies, my main concern…from where do I get the bees and brood? That first year was easy. I had an apiary of thirteen colonies that needed to be moved. In July I broke down those colonies into forty nucleus colonies, buying in the necessary queens from a California breeder. All forty nuclei came through our Vermont winter. Was I convinced? Absolutely.
Then came the second year. What was I to do? I could harvest brood and bees from my stronger production colonies, as I had always done before when making early season splits. That path forward meant removing all the full supers, harvesting a few frames of brood and bees, and replacing those heavy supers back on the hives. Ugh, more lifting than I wanted to do. I decided, rather than lifting all that weight, I would just sacrifice my non-productive colonies, and use the bees and brood they had.
While this technique served my purpose for a few years, it meant sacrificing production colonies. For some years, I didn’t have enough non-productive production colonies and was forced to harvest the necessary resources from my honey producers.
When wintering nuclei, there are always some that have wintered poorly and aren’t available for use or sales. For the first few years, I allowed these to build up until mid-summer, sacrificing them at that point for help in creating my nucleus colonies for another year. This created other issues. Remember these were little colonies that had problems. An abundance of chalkbrood slowed some down and made their brood unusable. Some had such poor queens that they never did build up much of a brood nest. All this reduced the number of nuclei I could take into the winter. Then came one of those eureka moments. Why not keep some of my best-overwintered nucleus colonies and use them as my source for brood and bees.
In 2011 I did just that, and this new technique changed my apiary management forever. That year, I held back fifty nucleus colonies for use in this new project. First, I harvested bees and brood from them to set up thirty-five queen cell-producing colonies. Each received two combs of honey and seven combs of the emerging brood. Once I had the queens available…the queen cells had been installed in mating nuclei…I was able to create 330 nucleus colonies. What a game-changer. All these nuclei and queens were created from the resources of other nucleus colonies, maintained solely for this purpose. Hence, the term "Brood Factory".
Today, some ten years later, I have more than a hundred of these “Brood Factories”. They have become the foundation of my sustainable apiary just as the wintering nucleus colonies have become the building blocks. My presentation will highlight the setup, use, and management of brood factories.
About the speaker
Mike Palmer grew up in New York City and as a child was fascinated by all the plants, insects, and animals all around him. He then went on to study in Vermont where he met and fell in love with his wife Lesley and with the local countryside and he decided to stay. He first started keeping bees in 1974 with varying success. Then in 1998, he decided to change the way he overwintered his bees and he began to concentrate on the quality of his bees and not the quantity. Today Mike raises about 1200 queens a year and manages over 1000 colonies and is widely recognized as a worldwide authority on sustainable beekeeping. He has built up French Hill apiaries into the successful farm that it is today.